High-ranking politicians from both sides of the border met in Dublin today to discuss the fallout from the EU referendum and the consequences of Brexit.
Neither members from the Democratic Unionist Party – the largest party in Northern Ireland – nor the Ulster Unionist Party chose to attend the summit, which was hosted by the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny described the issue of Brexit as the “greatest challenge” facing Ireland since it gained independence from Britain.
He explained how he wanted to hear from those who would be directly affected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
Representatives from business and farming networks were also in attendance as Mr Kenny sought to address the implications from the vote and examine how they could be effectively managed.
He noted how it has the “potential to impact on everybody on the island, north and south”.
“It has implications for so many aspects of our relationship and it presents the most significant economic and social challenge of the last 50 years,” he added.
The majority in Northern Ireland (56 per cent) voted to remain during the June referendum and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams reiterated his view that his party would push for a “special status” for the six counties.
He said: “This is not about a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, but about an alternative to Brexit.
“We would be arguing for designated special status for the north within the European Union. Our preferred approach would be a united Ireland, others have a different view.”
First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, was dismissive of how much the summit could achieve and argued that it had been staged for the “remoaners”.
Her absence was criticised by several politicians, including Social Democratic and Labour Party leader, Colum Eastwood, who called it a “huge mistake”.
“I think it’s important now that, no matter what position we held in the referendum, we begin the process of defending the rights and voices of the people of the North in this process,” he said.
Fianna Fáil leader, Michael Martin, added: “It is disappointing, but we have to continue to work through various channels to make sure that we’re all on the same page in terms of the challenges that face us and indeed the solutions that we need to find together to make sure that we can protect the people on the island from the potential negative impacts of Brexit.”
The All Island Civic Dialogue on Brexit was led by Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charles Flanagan, alongside the Taoiseach.
He reiterated his belief that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic must remain “invisible”.